To Bill Gates, Bigger isn’t Better

Mr. Gates,

I have great respect for you.  While I am not a Windows user, I can appreciate the computer know-how and business saavy that were needed for your company to completely dominate the computer operating system marketplace.  I am also awed at the profound effect your philanthropy is having all around the world.  You are a role model in a variety of ways.

In the world of education, however, I challenge your authority and expertise.  In my experience, most adults consider themselves knowledgeable about public education policy and qualified to advise others simply because they have been students themselves.  While I am certain that you have many intelligent advisors and have read some of the relevant research literature, I am disappointed in the messages that you are promoting with your considerable profile.

In your Washington Post article from February 28, you suggest that the key to improving public education in the current economic climate is to shave expenses by rolling back class size improvements of the past several decades.  You say,

Perhaps the most expensive assumption embedded in school budgets – and one of the most unchallenged – is the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement.

I resent the implication that reducing class size is an unproven strategy.  Large amounts of data demonstrate the power of smaller class sizes in improving student achievement.  It is difficult not to be convinced by the data found herehere and here, but I can also speak to this issue firsthand.  I have taught middle school students for ten years, and every significant positive teaching and learning experience that I have had in this time has occurred when I was able to work with a group of students smaller than my typical 32.

It is both intuitive and proven that a teacher can better address the academic needs of her students when there are fewer of them.  With the amazing spectrum of students that are now grouped together in our inclusive classrooms, how can anyone expect one trained professional to meet the needs of 35, 40, or more students?

Mr. Gates, my colleagues have addressed other concerns (here, here, and here) with the statements that you make in your WaPo article.  My biggest gripe is that you have a powerful voice in the public arena and you have chosen to use it to desparage the work of qualified and talented educators and make our jobs significantly more difficult by convincing the “Powers That Be” that more students in each class is the solution to our current crisis.  Please consider the impact of your words and gather more information before making misguided statements.

Yours educationally,

MrScienceTeach

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